What makes hordes of yelling barbarians terrifying even to trained soldiers?

Sep 2013
579
Holland
Screaming and yelling is pretty terrifying. It speaks of bloodlust.

It signifies that the enemy is ready for combat and not afraid to die.

So when scared soldiers hear it, they start losing morale.
 
Apr 2013
1,041
St. Augustine
Quiet guys are scarier (to me) than noisy ones. Some guys "monkey gesture" and some guys just strike.
 
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
Quiet guys are scarier (to me) than noisy ones. Some guys "monkey gesture" and some guys just strike.
I read a book published by the Smithsonian once that claimed that the armies in the late Republic and early Empire didn't have a battle cry or make noise before a battle. This was actually more intimidating, since because battle cries are often a way to let out fear before a battle, this gave the appearance that the Romans weren't afried.
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,541
South of the barcodes
Thats actually one of the distinctions of the old British line, th French column was trained to mass men who would approach in a disciplined fashion with drums, chears and noise to break the will of untrained troops.

The Brits were trained to maintain complete silence and discipline except for fire commands, to break the enemy with gunnery and then when they wavered to fix bayonets and hurtle down at them in a screaming mass.

The shock of total silence walls of men and then a swarm of screaming lunatics breaking out was usually enough to convince peole they had a prior engagement they'd forgotten about and head for home.
 
Mar 2013
3,909
Texas, USA
I think the point with the late Consular and early empire age Romans fighting in silence, at least by the sources that reported of them, was that they were all blooded veterans on both sides and immune to the noted chilling affect of wild battle cries. Caesar's legions used battle cries in Gaul but then within 20 years later, at Mutina, the same veterans from his legions are fighting in silence. Maybe because both sides were full of men that knew that cheap gimmicks like a crest making you seem taller or yelling in battle might work against novices but not against other professional veterans.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,386
No-one is immune - human psychology works in certain ways - but you can get used to it or become conditioned by training. What happens is that your tolerance level increases. the noise and perceived threat has to be so much worse before you overtly or instinctively react. However - such tolerance does often come at a price, so those with high resistance to threat display might well be dismissive of danger to others, or perhaps cruelty that they suffer, and although cooperative within a team exposing itself to danger, does not necessarily volunteer or extend that cooperation to others unless ordered tio do so.

The silence employed by imperial legions was primarily to ensure orders could be heard and to retain discipline. Whilst some literature refer to it as scary, human psychology responds more to perceived threat which involves threat displays like loud noise. In any case, Rome's enemies weren't always dissuaded by silence.

Bear in mind that republican era legions employed a war cry.

Maybe because both sides were full of men that knew that cheap gimmicks like a crest making you seem taller or yelling in battle might work against novices but not against other professional veterans.
That's the trouble with this issue - it's being viewed in absolute terms, when in fact it's more circumstantial. Troops with high morale are more resistant to intimidation than those ready to give in. Add to that Roman superstition - troops could be very unwilling to fight in some circumstances (such as the Pannonian mutineers giving up after a lunar eclipse, or VArus's legions literally 'under the weather' - thunderstorms were signs of angry gods - and that crossing bodies of water was trespassing on a locals gods domain, thus we see more than once Roman troops refusing to embark for Britain). Or then again, the enemy you face might make a difference....

Roman soldiers prefer to suffer any fate than look a Persian in the face
Libianus ZXIII pp.205-11

Caesar makes some interesting references to morale problems during his account of the Gallic War. His centurions were, early on, getting quite nervous with speculation. Caesar rounded on them, telling them not to discuss strategy which was his concern - theirs was leading men into battle. He also writes about how he pushed men back into the line when they started to waver, and notably failed with two standard bearers, one of whom threatened Caesar with the sharp end of the pole, the other simply forcing the standard into Caesars hands and running off.

Whatever the conduct and state of morale of any army, you will always find a degree of variation between individuals within it. Most will do their duty albeit a little apprehensively beforehand. A few will be confident and unafraid. A few won't stay to see what happens next. Individuals can change their view according to their own personal state of morale and motivation.

It's to the credit of Roman leadership that the legions remained a p;otent force for so long, but details of their conduct in battle aren't necessarily more significant.
 

zincwarrior

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
5,713
Texas
I don't think Union soldiers were terrified by the rebel yell.

There are multiple reports that disagree with you.

On a more current timeline, charging Chinese in North Korea impacted my uncle so much anyone playing a brass instrument years later would send him into a tailspin.
 
Jan 2014
18
Herts/UK
The Spartans weren't much about making noise, just approaching their unfortunate enemies phalanx's to the rythmic beat of drums and pipes, showing a wall of gleaming bronze as they advanced, until their spears ran the enemy through.

Highly trained, unlike anyone else at the time, and brutalised from childhood, death was the way to go - gloriously and for Sparta with any luck...!!!

WOW!!!
 
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
No-one is immune - human psychology works in certain ways - but you can get used to it or become conditioned by training. What happens is that your tolerance level increases. the noise and perceived threat has to be so much worse before you overtly or instinctively react. However - such tolerance does often come at a price, so those with high resistance to threat display might well be dismissive of danger to others, or perhaps cruelty that they suffer, and although cooperative within a team exposing itself to danger, does not necessarily volunteer or extend that cooperation to others unless ordered tio do so.

The silence employed by imperial legions was primarily to ensure orders could be heard and to retain discipline. Whilst some literature refer to it as scary, human psychology responds more to perceived threat which involves threat displays like loud noise. In any case, Rome's enemies weren't always dissuaded by silence.

Bear in mind that republican era legions employed a war cry.


That's the trouble with this issue - it's being viewed in absolute terms, when in fact it's more circumstantial. Troops with high morale are more resistant to intimidation than those ready to give in. Add to that Roman superstition - troops could be very unwilling to fight in some circumstances (such as the Pannonian mutineers giving up after a lunar eclipse, or VArus's legions literally 'under the weather' - thunderstorms were signs of angry gods - and that crossing bodies of water was trespassing on a locals gods domain, thus we see more than once Roman troops refusing to embark for Britain). Or then again, the enemy you face might make a difference....

Roman soldiers prefer to suffer any fate than look a Persian in the face
Libianus ZXIII pp.205-11

Caesar makes some interesting references to morale problems during his account of the Gallic War. His centurions were, early on, getting quite nervous with speculation. Caesar rounded on them, telling them not to discuss strategy which was his concern - theirs was leading men into battle. He also writes about how he pushed men back into the line when they started to waver, and notably failed with two standard bearers, one of whom threatened Caesar with the sharp end of the pole, the other simply forcing the standard into Caesars hands and running off.

Whatever the conduct and state of morale of any army, you will always find a degree of variation between individuals within it. Most will do their duty albeit a little apprehensively beforehand. A few will be confident and unafraid. A few won't stay to see what happens next. Individuals can change their view according to their own personal state of morale and motivation.

It's to the credit of Roman leadership that the legions remained a p;otent force for so long, but details of their conduct in battle aren't necessarily more significant.
While you do make good points in your post and I agree with you completely, when you are describing Caesar's soldiers in Gaul it sounds like its early in the campaign, when they were still green. These men were far from the battle hardened veterans that they would become, and reacted just like any other green troops.